The common calendula (Calendula officinalis) – a tough flower that counts daisies, chrysanthemums and ragweed among its nearest relatives – is just such a plant. Also known as “pot marigold” (it isn’t related to marigolds, by the way), calendula sports a welcoming face whose rays range from pale yellow to vivid orange and whose eyes vary from lemon-yellow to chocolate-brown. Cultivars with either single or double blossoms are commercially available, so even gardeners with no particular interest in medicinal herbs – but who habitually plant more “fashionable” flowers – would be content with the aesthetics of a calendula bed.
Beyond its innate ability to catch the eye, C. officinalis has garnered the undying respect and affection of herbalists, who consider calendula blossoms to be the source of great healing powers. For at least 900 years, calendula blossoms have figured prominently in the pharmacopeia of healers and in the gardens of simplers. Calendula has traditionally been used (both internally and externally) for treating abdominal cramps, delayed menstruation, constipation, earaches, ulcers, worms, sore throat, gum disease, varicose veins, conjunctivitis, proctitis, shingles and other vesicular rashes, eczema, burns, bruises, strained muscles, xerosis (dry skin), insect bites and stings, vascular ulcers and dysmenorrhea (menstrual pain). During the 19th century, the Eclectics included calendula in some of their therapeutic regimens for cancer.
Modern research has demonstrated some basis in fact for calendula’s traditional uses. Its flowers are antimicrobial by virtue of their terpene alkaloid, flavone and lactone content: calendula’s essential oil exhibits activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumonia, Candida, Rhinovirus (one cause of the common cold), vesicular stomatitis virus and even HIV. A 2006 study in BMC Cancer revealed that an aqueous extract of C. officinalis stimulated lymphocyte activity and inhibited tumor growth in both human and mouse cell lines. Calendula exerts anti-spasmodic effects in intestinal tissues. Finally, calendula has demonstrated an ability to heal and prevent radiation dermatitis in breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.
Calendula petals and whole flowers can be used to prepare tinctures, infusions, poultices, oils, creams and ointments. Many of these products are available commercially, so you can usually find what you need at supplement stores or wherever your favorite herbalist hangs out…
…but it’s much more fun to “grow your own.”
(Pregnant women should not take calendula internally, as it possesses emmenagogue properties.)
1. Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines, Second Edition: Marigold. Thomas Flelming, PharmD, Chief Editor. 2000
2. Jiménez-Medina E, et al. A new extract of the plant calendula officinalis produces a dual in vitro effect: cytotoxic anti-tumor activity and lymphocyte activation. BMC Cancer. 2006;6:119